Joey King continues to build up the idea that she is definitely someone to keep on your radar. For while Smartass kind of seems like a “meh” film, her persona makes it something worth seeing. As for why? Well, look below.
15-year-old Freddie (Joey King) ran away from home a long time ago, seemingly to find herself. What she ends up with is with a bunch of outcasts who manufacture and use drugs. All the while skirting about the LA area’s gang culture. However, they end up too close for comfort as a recently imprisoned guy, Lobo (Octavio Pizano), is trying to get money from a deal for protection money. Of which, Freddie’s friends Nick (Ronen Rubinstein), Otto (Adam Cagley), and Z (Nathan Keyes) find themselves in the dead center of, since Nick makes the drugs.
But with Freddie getting arrested, so splits the story of Smartass. One-half deals with Freddie getting from LA to San Diego and (Which is about 120 miles, give or take) and the other deals with Nick and co. dealing with Lobo’s men who are stalking them.
Believe me when I say, it is a fun and zany ride.
“The mark of the very old is always the same. […] Reflection hampered by immeasurable regret.”
“Don’t confuse tactics with character.”
Other Noteworthy Moments
Since Ramona and Beezus, I’ve tried to keep up with Joey King’s career and I truly think she is one of the few actresses who deserves a pass for taking the “Learning on the job” route. For while some of her films, like Borealis, I couldn’t get into, you can see growth. Take, for instance, the main critique of her in Borealis is that she is very reliant on her co-stars. However, in Smartass, arguably she is able to be compelling on her own, no matter who she is paired with.
Perhaps showing that, if anything, when playing smartass characters, she is in her element. Just as long as there isn’t this prolonged pursuit of her bringing a dramatic performance. Which isn’t to say she isn’t capable, for there is this scene with this old man named Herman (David Selby), where the two quotes above come from, which was a little emotional and played well. But I think she still has some ways to go before she can cut the comedy and still work the screen.
Honest Race Relations
Racism plays a huge role in Smartass and weirdly, it comes off very authentic. Be it how people of color act and talk to Freddie, this seemingly privileged white girl with a taste for danger, or how people of color act around each other. Now, I won’t pretend someone may not find the interactions offensive, but in that, you get the authenticity. Even when there are really odd moments, like when Beef (Fatso-Fasano) and Antwan (Allen Maldonado) were talking about raping Freddie until, like Helen Keller, she couldn’t hear, speak, or talk. Which was a very weird moment that came from comical characters who seemed dead serious.
How Ridiculous The Story and Characters Are
The characters of the film, and the journey they go on, is beyond ridiculous. Freddie meets multiple perverts, one who saves her from Beef and Antwan, gives her money, and jerks off while she sleeps, another who sells her, and the eccentrics she meets is just a long and winding list. The same goes for Nick’s associates. Be it Donny (Luke Pasqualino), who is a bit of a tweaker, ChuuChuu (Nicole LaLiberte), Lobo’s racist girlfriend, and the others who either come off compelling, like Rod (Marc Menchaca), or bat**** crazy like Lobo’s brother Paolo (Arturo del Puerto).
Together, as much as this collection of characters would make you think this movie should be a clunker, is somehow works. If only because the storyline is strong enough to tie them together as they share a mutual pursuit.
So, Why Did Freddie Runaway Again? Much less, How Is She Surviving Out In These Streets?
Bringing up Herman again, he is the one who brings up the elephant in the room: Why did Freddie runaway? She doesn’t get beaten or abused, her mom (Maria McCann) makes things seem stable, and she seems to love her two younger brothers. Also, she is 15. So what is the issue here? Is it like with Z and the suburbs were too stable for her? It didn’t inspire her artistic talents, Freddie is a talented artist, so she decided to go to where people were more “real?” Unfortunately, Freddie skirts around the answer.
All we get is, since Herman sees himself in Freddie, the idea that Freddie is simply impetuous. Which, considering all we see her go through, is an accurate description of her.
On The Fence
The Story Isn’t For Everyone
As noted, through the good movies and bad movies, I’m a fan of Joey King. So while I may not be the type to stan and not note when she, or the film, is terrible, I must admit bias when it is possible. Hence why I must note this story may not be for everyone. While I find it comical, even when it is low-key offensive, some may find the jokes fell flat, the stoner/drug culture of the film is beyond comprehension, and that it relies too much on stereotypes.
Much less, the idea of this white girl who gets to traverse through these spaces, only mentally and emotionally harmed, may seem unbelievable. I could totally agree with that. However, as I try to do with everything I watch, you got to remember that while studios are trying to create the next “”, arguably most screenwriters and directors are trying to make a name for themselves. So while they may pay homage, what they are really trying to do is stand out.
So despite this being another film in which some sort of rough around the edges white girl gets to play tourist in an urban area and survive, at least it isn’t like White Girl.
Overall: Positive (Worth Seeing)
Smartass shows that Joey King has found her element and what type of characters she can thrive on. And with finding that, you really get to see and understand why this 18-year-old girl has been working consistently for over a decade. Alongside that, we are presented with a weird enough to seem unique, but not so weird it seems pretentious, kind of movie.
One which may seem like an odd choice for the increasingly rare Positive label, but it really is better than it appears. Which I could try to convince you as much as I like, but you really got to see it to believe me.